AEOS Review: John Wick (2014)

I made a spontaneous trip to the theater to see John Wick (2014) last night, knowing very little going in, and only half-excited after viewing the trailer. Tom from Digital Shortbread probably offers a more knowledgeable review on the film than I can, but based off my somewhat limited viewing of action flicks and Keanu Reeves movies, here is my very subjective review on the film.

I’m not sure if I missed all the ads, or John Wick just sneaked up on me. I don’t recall seeing previews for the film before I saw any other movies in theater, so I imagine there wasn’t as much push for John Wick as previous other actions movies to have come out this year.

For those of you who don’t know what John Wick is about, the story can be summed up simply as a revenge action flick. John (Keanu Reeves) has lost everything important to him. The movie opens with us watching his wife’s life flash before his eyes, leading to her eventual death when the doctor pulled the plug. It’s not entirely explained how or why she died, but early on we get a glimpse of John’s vulnerable side as he’s deals with his wife’s passing. After her funeral, John arrives home and receives a dog: a final gift from his wife, with a letter, offering another life to help him cope with his grief.

What appears to be the next day, John is filling up his ’69 Mustang with gas at a station when Iosef (Alfie Allen) and a couple of his friends approach him, offering to buy his car. John refuses, and of course, that’s not the end of it. Later that evening, Iosef and his buddies break into John’s home, beat him up, murder his dog, and steal his car.

And then we’re on to act two of the film, which makes up the majority of the film’s 96-minute run-time.

I won’t mention any spoilers beyond that, because it’s for viewers to enjoy who haven’t seen the film yet. What I will say is that the film takes off with adrenaline, yet as viewers, we don’t feel out of breath. It’s not an original idea for a man to seek vengeance for that kind of act, or for us to see a new hero arise that was living “on the other side” for the past five years. But what we get out of John Wick is a hyper-violent revenge story that introduces the action prowess of Keanu Reeves to a new generation. Reeves is no stranger to the action genre, but John Wick might be his most successful action film since The Matrix (2000), if I dare cross a line in saying so. This isn’t the first time Reeves’s acrobatic skills have been on display, but it’s what he does with a gun that makes everyone keenly aware that his character is not to be dealt with. It is not simply a killing spree when John Wick enters the room. He knows how to make a gun dance, and the scenes where he is in action, killing all those who get in his way, is not just a killing: it’s an art.

Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), Iosef’s father, describes John Wick as “the man who takes care of the boogeyman.” It’s a funny title to hold, but Reeves is adept at playing a believably violent, revengeful man on the hunt. John Wick is certainly Reeves’s movie through and through. The choreographed fight scenes reminded of Jason Bourne in the Bourne series. The film is slickly edited thanks to Elísabet Ronalds’s handy work, who was able to make the action scenes even more interesting to watch on screen. It also seems possible to suggest that “John Wick” could become a action franchise name included with the likes of Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne if producers decide to turn it into a franchise.

My greatest fear in going in to see John Wick was that I’d see a stylistically-engaging film that was low on substance. The style was definitely present, but the movie did fail to offer a very memorable storyline. Despite that, I still really liked John Wick. Keanu Reeves carried the movie, and there were decent, though somewhat unmemorable performances by Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist. I wish they would have given these guys more to do as they’re both talented actors, but the screenplay lacked the necessary pull to make these characters come alive on screen, even with the actors’s best efforts.

My desire is that producers bank off the critical success of John Wick and turn him into a franchise and build on his story, past the revenge aspect. Lurking behind the scenes is a compelling story that would probably clue us in on Wick’s past, before he was married, and about the world that involves a mysterious hotel with its own private club that deals only in gold coins and proffers a very generous compensation for its limited cliental.

While I really enjoyed John Wick, it did have its issues. Lack of originality is one of them, although despite its generic storyline, it seemed to successfully play the “typical action movie” stereotype and still be interesting. Tyler Bates composed the soundtrack, which while at times, felt like a hardcore gangster soundtrack, managed to work . . . although it was unsteady in parts, making you question exactly what type of movie John Wick really was.

While John Wick is far from perfect, I had such a great time with it from beginning to end, that I am boldly giving it

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1/2 ON SCREEN.

 

(Sorry, Tom :-/)

*Note – I never totally figured out how to make “half an eye,” so I will be updating scores for previous movies I have reviewed to either slightly higher or lower, based off what I originally wanted to score them.

Now it’s your turn. What did you guys think of John Wick? Am I crazy for liking it as much as I did? Please share your thoughts below, because as always, I would love to know your thoughts.

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AEOS Review: Mission Impossible 4–An Impossible Feat Made Possible?

I was obviously going to play off the word impossible or possible as much as possible, because I have to hand it to director Brad Bird–if there were a mission to edge as close to the idea of being “impossible,” Ghost Protocol was it. In fact, Ghost Protocol was so good, that it holds the reigning title of best movie I have seen this month. And that is a high achievement, given that it is the month of December and some of the best movies are coming out right now.

A failed mission has just transpired. Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux) shoots an IMF agent who has just attained the sought after launch codes for Russian nuclear missiles in order to deliver them to the primary villain of the story, Cobalt, who just so happens to be a nuclear extremist. Cut to Ethan Hunt sitting in a Russian prison, bouncing a rock off the opposite wall from himself. We don’t see his face or even realize it’s Hunt at first. We’re focused on the two agents trying to break him out of prison: Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and a familiar face, now field Agent Benjamin Dunn (Simon Pegg).

There’s a prison break, and an all too familiar tune starts to ring in the background . . . oh yeah, we’re watching a Mission Impossible film. Throughout the remainder of the film, we hear it on occasion, and when we do, we welcome it because it isn’t overplayed and it adds just the needed rhythm for the accompanying scenes.

And so begins the fourth installment of Mission Impossible. Hunt concludes that it must have been necessary to break him out, because otherwise he’d still be in prison. The mission is to gather files located in the Moscow Kremlin in order to find and identify Cobalt. Several missteps take place. Security is somehow alerted of their presence in the Kremlin, and the team is forced to run when the Kremlin blows up. A ghost protocol is sanctioned by the Secretary, who is no sooner killed, leaving Hunt and the secretary’s analyst, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to join up with the rest of the team and work without any outside help, having to accept blame and being deemed terrorists for the bombing of the Kremlin.

I won’t summarize the rest for you, given that the plot is fairly complicated. But there are several things to highlight, such as the intense scene where Tom Cruise is scaling the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, located in Dubai. There are a few mishaps along that way that force him to get creative in getting in and out of the building, not leaving much time to consider his own survival. Roger Ebert posted the videos of Tom Cruise actually climbing up the building, and running around and down it, and jumping across the outside of the Burj Khalifa in his journal. Here’s one of those videos:

This movie pushes the envelope more than any of the previous three have dared. Every stake is high and gets higher, the tension closes in past the last possible second, and at some points, it’s almost painful to look to see if Ethan Hunt has survived the next problem to come his way. There’s a great supporting cast, with a stand-out performance for Jeremy Renner playing secretary analyst Brandt, who happens to have a few tricks up his sleeves, meanwhile harboring a secret or two of his own. Simon Pegg’s return as Benji reminds me of the friendship / partnership that Jack Bauer and Chloe O’Brian shared on the 24 series. Pegg’s humor is the only thing offering any amount of breaking point from the high action, ultra-intense, adrenaline rush of the entire movie. Paula Patton also gives a nice performance as an agent we get to meet for the first time, who’s equally beautiful as she is physically talented.

This movie holds you until the very end and leaves you with a sense of awe. The IMAX surround sound really brings you into the middle of the craziest parts of the movie, from a car/foot chase in a sandstorm to Cruise holding his breath as his technologically-failing gloves slowly give out on him while he hangs on for dear life on the Burj Khalifa. Another crazy scene occurs when Agent Brandt is wearing a special suit that allows him to hang in the air. But first, he has to jump down a shaft with a giant fan at the bottom of it. I won’t say how that scene ends, but I will admit that I wondered a few times if he was going to make it out of there alive or not.

The best surprises are revealed in the end in a most satisfying way. I have to credit Bird for tying this movie to the previous one by including a cameo of MI3 character Luther Stickell, played by Ving Rhames. There’s a great surprise ending that makes you want to praise screenwriters Steve Zaillian, David Koepp, and Robert Towne. They did a spectacular job with moving the story along as well as placing surprises at every turn.

MI4 is one of the best action movies of the year, no arguments made. It is, by far, as close to impossible as a mission could get, especially in this franchise. Tom Freaking Cruise has finally outdone himself in the Mission Impossible franchise. He’s made some beautiful gems year after year, showing off his range of drama to action, and MI4 does not fall short of his stunning film resume in any way. He pulled out all the stops and continued to bring the drama and action to this series, by doing his own stunts and adding new layers to the character, Ethan Hunt. Anyone looking for a good great movie this month should leave in the middle of Sherlock Holmes 2 and get an IMAX seat to this unplugged thriller.

December ’11: Entertainment vs. Oscar Hopefuls

While 2011 hasn’t been an altogether disappointing year for film, it hasn’t entirely sparked a whole new generation of moviegoers to enter the film arena, or blown away even the most dedicated cinefile. Now, that isn’t to say there haven’t been some gems found amidst the crap, or some really decent, fun movies that critics have torn apart for this reason or that, but put it on the month of December to impress viewers the most. The November/December season usually holds the majority of the Best Picture noms as well as many of the other nominations for the upcoming Oscars in February.

For Entertainment Purposes:

1) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Although the first SH in this series was pretty good, the only hit for it at the Oscars was its score by Hans Zimmer (which was very new and original). Although I’d love to see a movie like this gather some Oscar chatter, I don’t consider it a possibility given RDJ’s askew British accent and the film’s focus on more comedy/entertainment than story line (see either trailer to get a good look at RDJ dressed as a woman for one of his disguises). Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunate) for RDJ, his sarcasm and sense of humor has taken the lead in marketing for the more recent movies he has been or will be in (see both Iron Mans, trailer(s) for Game of Shadows, trailer for The Avengers). The special effects, however, do look pretty incredible, and the cinematography looks similar to the likes of 300, as well as the previous SH.

2) Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol

While I’m tired of hearing the argument–how can there be one, much less MULTIPLE impossible missions–I do respect the point and have to give it a little credit. This fourth movie in the franchise, however, looks promising as well as ending for the series, at least when it comes to Tom Cruise’s role as Ethan Hunt. The story line looks promising and more complex than past movies, and the stunts look even bigger and crazier. My hope is that the series ends after this film without a new start-up starring Jeremy Renner (geez, he’s already started that with The Bourne Series, let’s not do this with MI too!).

3) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

From what I’ve heard, the Swedes have done this series right in every way, and now we’ll see whether America can follow suite with the fictional book series and do it justice. Although there’s possibility for this movie to touch the Academy (past series have done so before–LOTR!), the odds are not in the favor of a fictional book-to-film adaptation unless you’re Peter Jackson. Still, this movie looks entertaining and interesting and different, and it looks like there’s a great cast ready to tell the story.

Oscar Hopefuls:

1) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Now when I call them “Oscar Hopefuls,” I mean that I hope that these films do something at the Oscars. And I think they have a good possibility as well. I wrote more about this movie in this post. I do think its talented British cast and interesting storyline, if well-played out, could possibly touch the Academy. The Brits have been reeling (pun intended) about this movie, and many critics have already awarded high marks to this movie since its earlier release in the UK.

2) The Iron Lady

Of all the movies I have listed, this is the film I have read or heard the least chatter about. For a political film starring Meryl Streep, I’m practically stunned that I’ve heard so little about this film. Streep has phoned in multiple Oscar-nominated (and won) performances, and it’s doubtful that this one will not join her other remarkable and stunning performances. Coupled with coming out during Oscar season and being part of a political thriller genre, it’s setting up all the right moves for gaining it’s own slot in the awards season. Stay tuned and watch out for this movie. I have a good feeling about this one.

3) We Bought a Zoo

I also wrote more about this movie in this post. Although Crowe has yet to get a film talked about at the Academy since Almost Famous, I think We Bought a Zoo has great potential. The Crowe and Damon alliance has happened for the first time, and it could reap great results. Crowe’s real-life, person-centered storytelling honed in, with the right cast, could earn him a spot.

4) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

This is surprisingly my first mention of this film. The trailer for this movie kind of came out of nowhere for me, and having people like Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock head this project makes that especially shocking. A new take and perspective on 9/11, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is already making viewers cry during the preview. I really look forward to this movie and could see it moving critics as well.

That’s my take on December! I’ve certainly seen a share of entertaining and critical films that have already been talked about for the next Oscar season. We’ll see what December holds for moviegoers. What are looking forward to watching the most this month? And do you think any of the films listed (or others not listed) have Oscar potential?